As I was putting together my Disney history list for this round of Blogging Through the Alphabet, I wondered what to include for the letter B. This was solved as my daughter and I planned our road trip to Walt Disney World this summer. We realized that since we would be traveling to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on our way home it would be easy to stop into Chicago and make a visit to the place where Walt was born.
The Walt Disney Birthplace Restoration Project
Doing a bit of research we were happy to find that Walt’s birthplace is not only still standing but it is being restored to the time period of his birth. Purchased in 2013 by Dina Benadon and her husband Brent Young, the property has been saved from the wrecking ball and instead is being turned around to be a place of inspiration.
Launching this amazing restoration through a crowdfunding campaign plus a generous grant from The Walt Disney Company Foundation the couple has assembled a dream team to move their project forward and create a cutting edge museum that will have visitors entering the world of Walt’s young childhood complete with the sounds and smells of the day.
Restoration Dream Team
V1 and I were fortunate and able to arrange a visit to Walt’s birthplace. We met up with life-long Chicago resident, former alderman of Chicago’s 35th ward, and project manager Rey Colón. Rey had some amazing stories to tell about the house and its restoration. Things I had never known before such as Walt’s mom Flora having been the architect of the house even while she had two youngsters (and possibly a third one on the way).
Rey made sure to take us step by step through the restoration, pointing out where additions and changes had been made over the years as well as answering any questions we might have. You could see the affection he has for the project in his every word.
We learned that the Disneys were the first family to have running water on the block. This was fairly forward at the time and I’m sure something that Flora appreciated as a mother of five. Rey showed us the little water closet that was tucked under the stairs right next to the kitchen. This was also the area where they found original baseboards and moldings that had thankfully remained through later remodelings.
The house looks amazing now with its interior and exterior basically completed. This was a huge undertaking with much of the success being owed to the involvement of Charlie Pipal and Tim Samuelson and the forensic analysis that was done of the home.
Touring the House
Just walking in the front door of the Disney home gave us a special feeling. Having been huge Disney fans for all of our lives we appreciated the opportunity to visit this home that was so important in his life. At one point V1 headed up to the second floor with Rey while I sat on the stairway (my arthritis was acting up) and I could just imagine Walt and Roy chasing each other up and down the steps, laughing as they ran. Perhaps even little Ruth getting into it with her big brothers. Of course, as a mother, I could also hear Flora calling from the kitchen for them to behave.
Rey pointed out to us some of the future special features of the home/museum. There are large windows that at one time would have faced into the rear garden. In the future, these will be screens that allow visitors to be immersed in the time period when the Disneys were resident in the home. There are plans for sights, sounds, and smells to help pull you into the memories of the place.
Special plans for a special tour
But there is more. Guests of the birthplace museum will first arrive at a visitor center where they will begin to learn about the family and this place. Then will come the trolley ride to the home itself. And since we always hope for a little pixie dust when the name Walt Disney appears, this trolley will have special windows that will allow you to see the neighborhood as Walt, Roy, and little Ruth would have all those years ago. (The trolley purpose will be twofold, first to get you in the mood for your visit but also because there is very little parking available near the museum, it is still a residential community after all.)
The plans for this museum are amazing but it doesn’t stop there. Also housed in the museum will be the Center for Early Childhood Creativity and Innovation (CECCI). This will be a non-profit space that will encourage and empower children and their families to be creative. This sounds like the perfect spot since there was certainly some creativity developed by Walt and Roy during their time living in the home their father had built with his own hands.
Before we ended our visit, Rey took us around the outside of the home to point out where the entire building had been raised in the 1920s when the addition was added. You can see where it originally had only a front stoop from the only known picture of Walt and Ruth in front of the house and later on with the raised front porch as is seen there today.
From talking to Rey it seems that Elias and Flora hoped to use their home as a bit of a model for his construction company. Rey gave us directions for two other homes on the same street that Elias had built and are still standing. one has been totally redone but the other is quite a lot the same as it had been originally. The condition of this home helped with the design for the bay window in the Disney home. It appeared to be an original feature of all three homes.
He also explained how Elias was good friends with the pastor at St. Paul Congregational Church, Walter Parr. Elias was the contractor who built the church and became a deacon there. The Parr family were also expecting a new addition so they agreed, if both babies were boys they would name them after each other. They were boys born one day apart so Walter Elias Disney and Elias Parr were baptized at St. Paul with these names.
We had a wonderful time visiting this very special home and learning more about Walt and his family during his younger years. Before we left the neighborhood, we drove by the Nixon School where Roy had attended school. It is still in operation today.
I hope you enjoyed this look at our visit to Walt Disney’s birthplace. It is certainly becoming a popular stop on any Disney fan’s radar. You can learn more about the project on their website, www.thewaltdisneybirthplace.org
And remember, while the exterior is mainly complete there is still a lot to be done on the interior plus the rest of the project. One of the major fundraisers is selling personalized brick pavers outside the home and interior plaques within. Just imagine, your name could become a part of this amazing project. You can find more information on the website as well.
You can keep up to date with Walt’s Birthplace project on social media at:
Facebook Walt Disney Birthplace
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